Streamsong is a huge golf paradise in central Florida and has three top 35 golf courses, two … [+]
Florida has more golf courses than any other state, but it also has more mediocre golf courses than any other state. I would argue that there are only four publicly available layouts in the Sunshine State that are worth traveling from elsewhere to play. All but TPC Sawgrass are relatively new – and at a resort that sweeps the rest of Florida – and much of the country.
Golf Digest calls Streamsong “the hottest golf destination to open in America this decade,” and they’re not kidding (though they mean the last decade, not really this decade). The magazine’s Top 100 America’s Greatest Public Courses are the most influential list in the industry, and the 2022 version is just out. It has all three eighteen at the resort in the nation’s top 35, with red at 20, blue at 26, and black at 34. To put that in perspective, Torrey Pines, this year’s US Open venue, is 42, Pebble Beachs vaunted Links at Spanish Bay is 53 and Michigan’s famous Bay Harbor is 63. Bandon Dunes, which dominates all the rankings, is the only other resort with three higher ranked spots – not Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, or Destination Kohler.
I first visited Streamsong shortly after it opened when there was only the first two courses, a clubhouse with a handful of guest rooms above it, a restaurant and not much else. I returned earlier this year – boy, things have changed.
Streamsong Black by the hot architect Gil Hanse in classic links style is the latest … [+]
I missed the intimacy and relaxed feel it originally had, but the progress is expensive and there is no way the resort could have survived with accommodations for half a dozen foursome – especially considering where it is. The location is really weird and makes Streamsong the easiest resort to get to in the country that is absolutely nowhere. It is located on a former phosphate mining site that is still largely surrounded by active mining sites – and nothing else. It is located in south-central Florida in the middle of a huge, empty, rough triangle that separates Tampa, Orlando, and Ft. Meyers. It’s just 97 miles and just over an hour from the Tampa Airport and 140 miles and an hour and a half from Orlando, which means you can get there from almost anywhere in the country without stopping. But if you need anything (lunch, beer, suntan lotion, chips) make sure you get it soon after you get into your rental car because when you exit the freeway there is nothing left and when you get here , there is literally nowhere to go without a hassle (make sure you have gas).
It also means that by the time you arrive you will be trapped in terms of the food and everything else, but the good news is that there is a surprising variety of restaurants and the food service is excellent across the board. Stream song is not a budget target, however.
The lodge is Streamsong’s main hotel and has two excellent restaurants, a rooftop bar, and an extensive one … [+]
Here’s the skinny on the golf. All three layouts are modern interpretations of Links architecture away from the ocean in the currently trending style of places like Kohler, Sand Valley (another of America’s best golf resorts and my favorite, a true hidden gem that you should check out and read about) Here). All allow walking, although not a must, like at Bandon Dunes or the Straits Course, and while I’ve enjoyed running in the Florida heat, not everyone does. They also have an extensive (and expensive) caddy (and forecaddy) program, as most of their counterparts are cut from this mold.
The Red has the highest rating largely because all of the golf magazine’s architecture critics adore designers Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, but Black (Gil Hanse) is the funniest, most wide-open with the biggest greens you’ll ever play, and Blue the Tom Doak Design (Doak made Pacific Dunes, which is the best public space in the country in my opinion) is the all-round best. The Red inexplicably throws a couple of watery, stereotypically floridanic holes in the middle of an otherwise winding, dry running route, which causes confusion rather than variety and breaks the rhythm. But the bottom line is that these are three excellent, standout golf courses and almost everyone rates them differently, but each of them is better than the best course ever, save for a handful of other resorts everywhere.
The Roundabout is the resort’s par 3 short course, but unlike many of its competitors, it offers real golf … [+]
There’s also a cool (and free) short course, the Roundabout, and a putting course, the Gauntlet, conveniently located near their own bar. All of the top golf resorts have added short and putting courses, and Streamsong is definitely one of the top -Golf resorts, although I like that the roundabout has some real par-3 holes rather than the 50-80 yard pitch and putt (or just putt) holes that other places go for. Either way, these additions are important as it’s a great way to quickly get in the mood for the expected and expensive main event and likely make you play better, which in turn adds to the fun. Also, many traveling golfers are not familiar with the bizarre entrances and greens of this architectural style, so it is worth looking at before teeing off for the first time. If, like many guests, you want to arrive in the afternoon and play golf, these are perfect.
Top 35 superlative golf is certainly the reason for Streamsong, but the biggest surprise on the courses is the quality of the food. At some of these resorts (Bandon Dunes) the food is marginal, and at others (Sand Valley, Cabot Links) it is good but limited in range. Not here. Even the typical halfway houses get one step up, each with a specialty: street tacos, BBQ, and lobster rolls (good ones are so far from Maine and not something you see on many – or maybe all – aisles). Oddly enough, they don’t even care about the Restaurants or Bars and Restaurant tab on the resort’s website, but while that suggests it is being taken less seriously, it absolutely is not. SottoTerra is a very good upscale Italian restaurant, especially by golf resort standards, with fresh pasta daily and signature meatballs to share. Restaurant Fifty Nine is a standard high-end steakhouse, which I mean as a compliment, ticking all boxes that are successful for the genre: 28 days of dry ripened steaks in a range of outstanding cuts, classic side dishes and sauces, and some creative surprises, from a smoked, then braised 22-ounce rib of beef (rare) to grilled Denver lamb ribs. The range of non-red meats on offer is also noteworthy, from lots of raw food bars as a starter to three types of ducks with artisanal family farm birds and the rare chicken rouge.
After writing a bestseller on the subject, I’m a huge fan of carefully selected ingredients, and this theme appears in all of Streamsong’s restaurants. You could go for common seafood and poultry, but they don’t. Fin & Feather is the lobby restaurant and lounge of the brand new resort hotel and continues this with a regional southern theme and accents from the region, with pickled southern prawns, clams from the Florida Keys, pheasant and the signature fish of the Sunshine State, grouper .
Perch fishing is great fun, but very few world-class golf resorts offer this activity. Stream song … [+]
But what impressed me most was the Bone Valley Tavern, the bar and the grill in the Streamsong Black Clubhouse. Almost every golf course has a bar / restaurant like this one, and few of them are better than average, let alone outstanding. This is one of my all time favorites. They take the standard clubhouse far and make it stand out, like a simple burger that uses certified Angus beef and excellent brioche bun, then overlaid on an ubiquitous seafood theme. How many clubhouse bars have you been to that offer tuna poke or authentically prepared Korean fried chicken wings (excellent!)? The signatures include a top notch shrimp, sausage and potato soup that is so good that I had it every time I ate here, even if it was too much. The lobster BLT is a bestseller for good reason, but I liked the lobster mac and cheese with cavatappi and chorizo even better. Fish and Chips uses local pork fish and a tempura crust, the Italian salt and pepper fritto Misto uses local golf prawns, golf fish and calamari with added Rhode Island-style banana pepper. This is just an exceptional sport for lunch or dinner (or breakfast) even if you don’t play black, and it’s the cheapest restaurant here. There is a long craft beer menu and an unusual number of wines by the glass.
A king-size bed with a lake view in the main hotel, the lodge.
The variety and quality of the food gives Streamsong a huge boost when you consider that there is no real place to eat and is part of a determined effort to make this not just a golf resort but a resort. The rooms in the newer main hotel are oddly decorated with an odd, not-quite-half-wall that turns them into a suite of sorts, but overall the property is quite nice with a great rooftop bar and extensive spa facilities. The best choice for accommodation is the “Clubhouse Experience,” which brings together the dozen rooms above the original clubhouse I stayed in on my first visit as an alternative to a villa. It’s a single party takeover, and while you don’t have to fill all 12 rooms, you have to book the whole, which includes the Albatross room, a communal area with a pool table, card tables, private bar, and multiple flat screens. It’s perfect for company entertainment, but also great when you have a larger group of people and want to enjoy each other’s company. It’s also the only place you can stay and play golf (blue and red) without taking a shuttle.
Aside from the full spa and outdoor pool, there are some unusual activities too, including on-site perch fishing, which is a lot of fun and, in terms of golf resorts, something that I normally only get at the 5-course Big Cedar. saw Lodge in Missouri (home of Payne’s Valley, Tiger Woods’ first US public design, an extraordinary layout you can read about here). They also offer sports courts that are usually found in the best golf and sports resorts like Primland (now an Auberge Resort), Reynolds Lake Oconee, Destination Kohler, Nemacolin Woodlands and again Big Cedar Lodge. They even offer archery, which is pretty unusual.
There’s enough variety for one round a day to fill the other half of the day, although a place like this draws a lot of 36-hole customers and it’s hard to miss the chance to play golf.